The Jats'' vicarious feeling of loss of power

The recent dharnas by the Jat Sangrash Samiti at various places in Haryana remind us of the nightmare of the two agitations of the Jats for reservation that took place in the post 2014 period.

The Jats'' vicarious feeling of loss of power

The stir has to be seen from the perspective of feeling of loss of power despite Khattar claiming to have given a fair share in power and given the call of Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas

Ranbir Singh

Ranbir Singh

Former Dean Social Sciences, Kurukshetra University

The recent dharnas by the Jat Sangrash Samiti at various places in Haryana remind us of the nightmare of the two agitations of the Jats for reservation that took place in the post 2014 period. These had almost paralysed the administration and caused considerable loss of property and life. Above all, these had badly damaged the social fabric of the state.  

Distant observers of Haryana politics have been obviously puzzled as to why this dominant caste which has a dominant status on account of its about one-third share in the population, more than two-third share in land ownership and overall hegemony of political power from 1966 to 2014 should demand reservation by claiming backward status. 

This despite the fact that they had aspired for Kshatriya status during the colonial period because they had been denied the status of Dwij (twice born caste) in the hierarchy of Hindu Varnas and were being treated as the Shudras till the Arya Samaj recognised their Kshatriya status and authorised them to wear Janeau (sacred thread) and perform Havana (burn the sacred fire). 

It is pertinent to mention that the British had not only recognised them as an agricultural tribe/caste under the Punjab Land Alienation Act (1900) but also accorded them the status of a martial caste to facilitate their recruitment in the Army. The division of the constituencies of the Punjab Legislative Council under the Government of India Act (1919) and of the Punjab Legislative Assembly under the Government of India Act (1935) into the rural and urban and their mobilisation in favour of the Unionist Party by Chhotu Ram had also enabled the Jats of Haryana to become shareholders in the power structure of colonial Punjab.  Moreover, the charging of lower fees from the agriculturalist castes in the educational institutions and the reservation of jobs for them had enabled the Jats to get a fair share in administrative services during that period. 

The abolition of those reservations and the introduction of universal franchise after Independence on the one hand and the mobilisation of the non-Jats by the Congress had marginalised the Jats after Independence. That is why they demanded the formation of Haryana state.

The attainment of statehood in 1966 enabled them to dominate the power structure from 1968 to 1979 till Bhajan Lal dislodged Devi Lal from power.  However, they regained it 1987 when Devi Lal staged a comeback due to his role in the Nayya Yudh against the Punjab Accord (1985) from 1985 to 1987. But his successor, O P Chautala, could not retain it in the 1991 Haryana Assembly elections and Bhajan Lal once again became Chief Minister and continued till 1996. 

But the Jats were able to regain it in 1996 when Bansi Lal staged a comeback as Chief Minister of Haryana Vikas Party-BJP coalition and retained power during the regimes of O.P. Chautala (1999-2005) and Bhupinder Singh Hooda (2005-2014).  Even when an ordinary Jat had in fact no real power, she/he had the vicarious satisfaction of possessing it.

Therefore, the Jat agitations took place in the post-2014 period when the state government began to be headed by a Punjabi, Manohar Lal Khattar. These have to be seen from that perspective of feeling of loss of power despite the fact that Khattar government claims to have given them a fair share in the Ministry and also given the call of Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas (cooperation from all and development of all).  

It is also pertinent to mention in the above context that the Jats did not demand backward caste status till it had been granted by Bhajan Lal Congress Government in Haryana in 1996 to the Ahirs, Gujjars, Sainis and Meos whose social status, being landowning agriculturist castes, was on a par with them.  

It is also not possible to absolve the UPA Government in the Centre which had included them in the Other Backward Castes and Bhupinder Singh Hooda led Congress Government in Haryana which had given them reservation as Economically Backward Castes. The judgments of the Supreme Court and the Punjab and Haryana High Court have declared these as ultra vires.  The use of Jat-Non-Jat divide by the major political parties in the 2014 parliamentary and assembly elections and the promises of the present political dispensation to grant reservation to the Jats, despite the knowledge that these would be set aside by the Supreme Court and Punjab & Haryana High Court, have made the confusion all the more comfounded in the above context.

It may also be added by way of a footnote that as per Statistical Abstract of Haryana (2016-2017), more than two-third of operational landholdings are below two hectares of land and about two-third of these, as per various estimates, belong to the Jats.  It is not surprising that the marginal and small land owners of these unviable landholdings among them had supported the demand for reservations raised by the upper strata of the community which too has been hit hard by the agrarian crisis. The shrinking number of government jobs in this era of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation on the one hand and the unemployability of the Jat youth, the bulk of which are educated in the village schools, has further aggravated the problem. The real remedy lies in resolving the agrarian crisis, making agriculture viable for the marginal and small farmers by encouraging dairy farming, improving rural education system and creation of self-employment opportunities. 

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